Lighter Quicker Eggplant Parmesan

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This year on Friday nights during Lent, I’ve been trying to make filling meatless meals that stand on their own, rather than just eliminating the meat from our favorite dishes. One of my favorite vegetarian entrees is Eggplant Parmesan. Ever since I tried some of my friend’s at Maggiano’s in high school, I’ve been hooked. When I saw this in my Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Recipes Cookbook that came with my subscription, I knew I had to make it. Annie posted this recipe as well and raved about how great it was, so I knew it had to be good.

This recipe is called “Lighter, Quicker Eggplant Parmesan.” Well, it’s not exactly “quick,” so I guess that’s a relative term. I admit that, because it was Friday night, I went at a leisurely pace and did not utilize the time when the eggplant slices were draining, so that added on some extra time.
The “lighter” term is relative too, because yes this dish uses less oil than if you fry the eggplant, but it still has a ton of yummy Parmesan and mozzarella. Just thinking about it makes me want some! It was really, really delicious. The breading on the eggplant is great with lots of Parmesan and bakes up nice and crisp. It even stays crisp after being topped with the tomato sauce and cheese. I really love the quick little sauce in this recipe; it has a ton of flavor and a nice spicy kick from the red pepper flakes. As good as this was the first night, Bob and I actually thought it was better the next day (and the next day, and the next day – it make a lot!)
Lighter, Quicker Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
For the eggplant:
2 pounds globe eggplant (2 medium eggplants), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
8 slices high-quality white sandwich bread (about 8 ounces), torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs (I needed 5)
6 Tablespoons vegetable/Canola oil
For the tomato sauce:
3 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes (I used petite cut)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 generous Tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper
8 ounces whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella, shredded (2 cups)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
10 fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish
Directions:
1. For the eggplant: Toss half of the eggplant slices and 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl until combined; transfer salted eggplant to a large colander set over a bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant and kosher salt, placing second batch in colander on top of first. Let stand until eggplant releases about 2 Tablespoons liquid, 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange eggplant slices on triple layer paper towels; cover with another triple layer paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible, then wipe off excess salt.
2. While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions, place rimmed backing sheet on each rack (I lined mine with aluminum foil to help with clean-up), and heat oven to 425F. Pulse bread in food processor to fine, even crumbs, about 15 1-second pulses (you should have about 4 cups). Transfer crumbs to a pie plate and stir in 1 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; set aside. Wipe out bowl (do not wash) and set aside.
3. Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large zipper-lock bag; shake to combine. Beat eggs in second pie plate. Place 8 to 10 eggplant slices in bag with flour; seal bag and shake to coat eggplant. Remove eggplant slices, shaking off excess flour, dip in eggs, let excess egg run off, then coast evenly with bread crumb mixture; set breaded slices on a wire rack set over baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant.
4. Remove preheated baking sheets from oven; add 3 Tablespoons oil to each sheet, tilting to coat evenly with oil. Place half of breaded eggplant on each sheet in a single layer; bake until eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping eggplant slices with wide spatula after 20 minutes. Do not turn off oven.
5. For the sauce: While eggplant bakes, process 2 cans diced tomatoes in food processor until almost smooth, about 5 seconds. Heat olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes; stir in processed tomatoes and remaining can of diced tomatoes. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes (you should have about 4 cups). Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. To assemble: Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of 13- by 9-inch baking dish. layer in half of eggplant slices, overlapping slices to fit; distribute 1 cup sauce over eggplant; sprinkle with half of mozzarella. Layer in remaining eggplant and dot with 1 cup sauce, leaving majority of eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp ; sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan and remaining mozzarella. Bake until bubbling and cheese is browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, scatter basil over top, and serve, passing remaining tomato sauce separately.
Source: Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Recipes


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